Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Hook Firmly in Cheek

Apparently I’m in an enviable situation that I hadn’t realized was so enviable until I saw people mention it – or, rather, moan about it -- online. 
I have in my possession an awesome critique partner. Like, the BEST. We’ll just call her The Mysterious D. We live on opposite coasts of these here United States, and I will tell you nothing more about her lest you be tempted to try and track her down and steal her away from me. (As an extra precaution I may start moving  her around amongst several safe houses.)

I trust her taste, judgment, and intelligence. She is also a writer, for whom I have great respect, and most of all she tells me the truth, especially when things aren’t working. For example, she’ll write me margin comments like, “NO. Just no,” and then I’ll realize, yes, perhaps I have gone on a bit long here. Or, indeed, this metaphor does suck astronomically. I guess I hadn’t realized. 

Oh, and she's also a professional copyeditor so we're not just talking overall critique, she does full-contact, hard core, line-by-line editing as well. 

Yeah. I know. I owe her a lot, though she has repeatedly declined my offers of a second-hand liver, slightly used airline slippers, and free tote bag as tokens of my esteem and appreciation.

I met her in grad school, and the weird thing is, I might never have become friends with her except that one day, early on in the semester, we were required to attend some administrative meeting. Can’t remember what the topic was, probably something along the lines of, "Just so we're all clear, this MFA you're getting is in no way going to make you employable after you graduate. Please sign this form acknowledging that fact."  

We filed into a classroom, and I was looking for a place to sit and there weren't many seats available. I noticed this woman wearing a very feminine skirt and sweater who was seated in the front row – a row I, in my inimitable slacker way, would usually avoid. But something about her sweater caught my eye -- it was kind of unusual. Then I realized that it had this very loose knit, and I could see through the loops of knitted yarn and what I'd initially thought was a pattern on the sweater was actually this huge tattoo on her back. And somehow what she was wearing – this somewhat girly skirt -- seemed so incongruous next to that big-ass tattoo, that it made my right eyebrow go up, all Mr. Spock-like, and I thought, “Hmmm. Most curious. Perhaps I'll sit next to her instead of that guy over there who seems to be sharpening his pencil with his teeth. And who is, for some reason, also crying.”

So that’s how I got to talking with the Mysterious D for the first time. 

Now, it occurred to me recently (like, just for this blog post) that this is how it is for me whenever I’m starting something new. There’s a host of possibilities about where to go and – referring to my example above -- where I choose to sit. But then, I don’t know, something leaps out at me, some small detail about this or that character. That's the detail that puts a hook in my cheek, and voila! I am intrigued. 

It’s funny to look back and see how a long-standing relationship started. How sometimes something so inconsequential or quirky sparked your interest or caused you to take notice of something/someone you might otherwise have ignored. And a novel is definitely a long-standing relationship, I’d say. 

Of course sometimes things interest you initially, but then you end up wriggling off the hook after a while. Those are the projects that end abruptly after a few thousand words. That hook's got to be well and irrevocably stuck if you're gonna go the distance. I don’t think you can carry on writing a whole novel if you’re not totally enthralled with your characters.

So tell me, what got you thinking about your current project? What about your main character was so intriguing that he/she got you to chomp down and now you have that hook lodged firmly in your cheek?